Mike Giuliani had a mixture of pride and surprise when he heard that Andre Jones had been drafted by the Washington Commanders in the seventh round of the 2023 draft.
The pride came from knowing how hard Jones, a two-star prospect from Varnado, Louisiana, had worked to achieve a lifelong goal. He wrapped his six-year college career with 12.5 combined sacks in 2021 and 2022, so it seemed like things were starting to click for the Third Team Sun Belt All-Conference selection.
The surprise came from Jones having to wait until the seventh round to get the call from head coach Ron Rivera.
"I spoke to several coaches that had very high grades on him," Giuliani said. "I thought it would be somewhere between the third and the fifth."
Perhaps Jones pulling his hamstring during the 40-yard dash at the combine hurt his stock a bit, or maybe him sliding into Day 3 was simply how the board fell. Either way, Giuliani is thrilled that Jones landed with the Commanders' talented defensive line, and he has high expectations for what his former player can accomplish.
"I think Washington got a steal," Giuliani said. "He's capable of anything."
Jones didn't start working with Giuliani until his senior year, when he decided to make the switch from defensive lineman to outside linebacker. Technically, Jones had made the switch before; he had alternated between the two positions for most of his college career, but he made the switch permanently heading into the 2022 season.
Mastering two positions is no easy task, particularly at the Division I level. While there is some overlap in terms of responsibilities, both positions require a completely different skill set for players to execute at a high level.
Jones did it in stride, Giuliana said, partly because of his physical gifts. "He's a good looking kid," Giuliani said. "Long, strong, good body, athletic." He has quick, nimble feet that allow him to navigate through plays to rack up tackles.
The other component was Jones' work ethic, which affects everything in Jones' life from his workouts to his diet.
"We have a 6 a.m. lift group, and Andrew is there at 5 o'clock to stretch and warm up and get his body ready to go," Giuliani said. "He's eating the right things. He's getting enough sleep. He's hydrating. He's doing all the things that a professional does."
Many of the traits Jones used on the defensive line were able to be transferred over to his new role. Giuliani didn't need to teach him how to rush quarterbacks. Jones was already exceptional at that, and the Ragin' Cajuns relied on that for much of the season.
But there were some things that Jones needed to learn as he got a firmer grasp on what it takes to be a linebacker. He needed a more wholesome knowledge of the playbook to get more comfortable in coverage and which players he was working with. The eye discipline also required some adjustments since his focus can change on any given play.
Most of what Jones had to learn was how to play on first and second down. His approach to fitting runs, how to read different blocks and where to align on plays. On third down, however, he was allowed to flex his history as a pass-rusher.
The Ragin' Cajuns had a list of "green light calls" each week for Jones, which meant that whatever the play was, wherever he was on the field, he was allowed to "cut loose" and go after the passer.
"He had things that he liked to do," Giuliani said. "He had an approach that he wanted to go into each game with. He'd come to me and say, 'Coach, here's what I like. What do you think?' We'd bounce it off each other, and we'd go into the game and let it rip."
Fortunately, Jones showed time and time again that he had the mental fortitude to handle the switch, and he often had lengthy discussions with Giuliani on how he could be used in the game plan.
"Just his football intelligence in a way that he can be just as serviceable on first and second down as he is on third down, that was the cool part for me," Giuliani said.
Jones also had a knack for memorizing all the details of a game plan, no matter how small. In the days leading up to the Ragin' Cajuns' game against Rice, Giuliani mentioned in an offhand comment that if Jones saw a bunch route, the ball would land in a specific spot. It wasn't even something that Jones had to know, but Giuliani decided to mention it just in case.
Sure enough, Rice lined up with a bunch formation to the strong side of the field in the first quarter, and the ball was placed exactly where Giuliani said it would be. Jones jumped the route and grabbed the interception, setting his offense up at the opponents' 46-yard line.
"I said, 'God, I didn't think you remembered that,'" Giuliani told Jones. "I had forgotten that I told him that. Then he came over to the sideline and was like, 'You know what? You're damn right. I did say that.'"
Check out some of the top photos from Andre Jones' college career at Louisiana.
Jones, now at Washington, will be back on the defensive line as he begins his professional career. The Commanders' love for players with position flexibility could lead to Jones being moved to linebacker, but for now, it seems like the staff values his ability to give quarterbacks problems and want him as close to the line of scrimmage as possible.
Giuliani doesn't believe blending in with the rest of the Commanders' defensive line will be a problem for Jones.
"Andre is capable of anything he wants to do, so I'm really excited to see him to do that and see what else he can incorporate into his game."